Survivor of Virginia Tech shooting speaks about student safety

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Kristina Anderson, a Virginia Tech shooting survivor, gave a candid account of her experience at a talk in Davies Auditorium. (Photo by Román Castellanos-Monfil)

For a few seconds after the gunman started shooting at her classmates, Kristina Anderson thought it was a prank.

“I thought someone might pop out and say, ‘Ok, it’s all over,’” she recalled. “But I think looking back, based on the sounds of gunfire and the people on the other end, I could tell something serious was going on.”

Anderson, a survivor of the Virginia Tech mass shooting, recounted her personal experiences in a talk titled “Safety is Personal: Lessons Learned as a Survivor of the Virginia Tech Tragedy” at Davies Auditorium on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The shooting left 32 dead and 17 wounded, and sparked national debates about campus safety. Anderson, who was shot three times, eventually recovered and went back to Virginia Tech to finish her undergraduate studies.

Recounting the events of the day, Anderson said she never thought that she was going to die. The shooting began while she was in her French class. Her professor heard gunshots and checked the hallway to see what was happening. She quickly went back inside and urged someone to call 9-1-1. Anderson immediately took cover underneath her desk as the gunman walked in.

“He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t pause, he literally just starts shooting,” she said. “He goes down rows of people, one by one. It felt very quick, it felt very sequential, it felt very purposeful.”

She braced herself for her “turn” and remembered feeling the heat wave from the gun approaching her while she waited, describing it as similar to walking into a sauna. He shot her once and left the room but came back a second time after attempting to go into other classrooms.

“The second time he came back was much scarier because the first time he fired so quickly, so indiscriminately that you didn’t have time to be afraid,” she said. He continued shooting at students and shot Anderson again after she looked up when a bullet flew over her head. The gunman left the room but came back a third time before taking his own life.

In total, Anderson was shot twice in her back and a third stray bullet hit her toe. After a few moments of silence, the SWAT came in and she pushed herself off her desk. The medics rushed her out of the building and took her to a nearby hospital along with other survivors.

The surgeons quickly operated on her and alerted her parents. Anderson said that this is her one regret from the day: she wishes she had been the one to call her parents. She added that she knew her life had changed in that moment and, instead of becoming a lawyer as she had planned, she decided to dedicate herself to the issues of campus safety and emergency planning.

“What spurred me jumping back into the workspace was that more shootings kept happening. I really thought that because Virginia Tech was the largest in magnitude and people impacted, it was going to be the first and last of it’s kind. Unfortunately, we know now that the list goes on,” she explained.

Soon after, she began traveling and raising awareness of the lessons that could be learned from the Virginia Tech shootings, visiting other campuses that had been affected by mass shootings.

“People ask often, ‘When did you get over it?’ The answer is that you never quite get over it. You find a new normal, a new way of coping and dealing with it,” she noted.

In 2013, she co-founded LiveSafe, an app that helps facilitate communication between campus police departments and the university community. Available now at Yale, the Bulldog Mobile/LiveSafe app is designed to empower students, faculty, and the entire community to stay safe by communicating with law enforcement when they feel at risk or wish to share information.

Yale Public Safety began offering the Bulldog Mobile/LiveSafe smartphone app to the community this past August, and over 2,100 individuals have downloaded it. The Bulldog Mobile/LiveSafe app allows users to instantly communicate with Yale Police by reporting tips, placing emergency calls, or messaging police, and to discover safety resources. The Bulldog Mobile/LiveSafe application is designed for non-emergency tip reporting; however, it also permits caller-initiated GPS location sharing. When the user initiates it to call 9-1-1, emergency responders will know his or her exact location so they can better serve and assist.

“We looked at how we communicate with law enforcement and how are they able to share information and communicate,” Anderson said. “We wanted to find a way that students, faculty, staff, anyone here could have a two-way communication with the police department.”

Yale University Police Chief Ronnell Higgins added that the police department learned a lot from the hoax shooting threat two years ago and has been in contact with the Virginia Tech police department for guidance in emergency training. He believes the LiveSafe app will allow emergency personal to respond faster and more efficiently.

“Whenever a tip or information is submitted to LiveSafe, we have a program so members of our command staff also receive it. It’s not just our dispatchers receiving the information; we built in some redundancy for that as well,” he said.

Yale students and faculty are encouraged to download the LiveSafe mobile app, available as a free download in iTunes and Google Play Store. Learn more about the application and download it.

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